Abhay Shivgounda Patil

About what matters.

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

My blogs – So far!

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[Updated on October 11, 2016.]

My recent “professional” blogs on LinkedIn here:
Demystifying Continuous Performance Management
Life Lessons from Originals – a wonderful book by Adam Grant
Interviewing for Hiring: Nobel Laureate’s Advice
Leadership Learning
Self-healing Systems

A few personal blogs on education, society and stuff.
If you don’t see beauty, you are not seeing
Notes from a talk by K B Jinan, the activist, designer and disruptive educationist.
Geshe Dorji Damdul on Mindfulness:
HH Dalai Lama’s confidante’s take on mindfulness.
Remembering Dijkstra
My talk on some of the quotes by the eminent computer scientist Edsgar Dijkstra.
Turning Around Universities
My notes of a talk by Prof. Deepak Phatak on how MOOC can dramatically change the role of a traditional University.
Gen Y For Dummies
Had a good time attending the NASSCOM (Pune) session on Gen Y management.
The Loss of Innocence – The IIT, Then and Now
A typical IIT student was intelligent, unassuming, self made, studious and rooted well in the “local” ethos.
Mathematics for justice!
Can we divide something between people such that everyone is guaranteed to be satisfied?
Let’s Talk Dirty!
That’s right. I do want to talk about things dirty.
Watch Thyself!
What do I do when I see an accident?
Wages of Inequality – P. Sainath’s lecture in Pune
Will we ever stop wearing our ideologies on our sleeves and instead focus on the human side of the story?
Can we ever read History with an open mind?
As an 11 year old in the 9th grade, untouched by any “ism” and totally oblivious of the label p-secular …

And here are some personal musings!
Some Poetry recital (काव्यवाचन) on Soundcloud!
Sharad Joshi Interview
“I see a lot of parallels between the socialism of the first Prime Minister Nehru and the so-called development-politics of PM Narendra Modi.” Always insightful to know what this iconic leader has to say on the issues that confront us. (Translated from original Marathi.)
Uniqueness of Religious Regions of Maharashtra
Religious Geography of Maharashtra – now that’s one scary academic sounding topic!
Tale of Two Relocations
My experience of two relocations – first in the year 1993 to the USA and then in 2001 to India.
दोन स्थलांतरांची गोष्ट
“तुम्ही भारतात परत का आलात?”
बोलाचे साहित्य बोलाचेच विश्व, रंकाचे धन आणि रावांचे कवित्व ॥
विश्व मराठी साहित्य संमेलन!
आता तुम्हीच काळजी घ्यायला हवी…
A poem by Shankar Vaidya.
One year of JM – FC road one way plan
Serious issues needing urgent corrective measures. (August 20, 2010)
Was ist Mitaan bitte?

Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

February 22, 2015 at 7:32 pm

Remembering Dijkstra

with 2 comments

A few days ago I was asked to inaugurate the Jigyasa Techfest at IMCC Jigyasa03and I chose that occasion to revisit some of the quotes by an eminent computer scientist Edsgar Dijkstra. I decided to take help of another eminent person, but from the arena of probability and randomness,  Nassim Nicholas Taleb (NNT), to highlight one of the quotes by Dijkstra.  I decided to begin the presentation with a poll based on a thought experiment by NNT.

Say, you are a cancer specialist. You have the the investigation report which shows no trace of cancer.  Now, is it evidence of absence of cancer or is it absence of evidence of cancer?  The show of hands in the auditorium indicated that the opinion was evenly divided.

The answer is: it is the absence of evidence of cancer.  As there is always a finite probability that the investigation report may miss something, it just can’t be evidence of absence. All we can say is there is absence of evidence.

dijkstraNow – how does that lead us to Edsgar Dijkstra?  Here is what Dijkstra says about software testing and bugs.

“Program testing can be used to show the presence of bugs, but never to show their absence”

Get it? When you find bugs, that’s obvious. But if you don’t find bugs, it means exactly that and nothing more – you did not find bugs – period. You can’t vouch that the program is bug free just because you didn’t find any bugs.

Edsgar Dijkstra has some pretty entertaining quotes to his credit – more about those later in this blog.  Right now let’s see some that relate to computer science, design and learning.

“Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes”

Will you call surgery “knife science”? No! Isn’t the term Computer Science a misnomer then? Think.

Simplicity is prerequisite for reliability”

How does one craft a good design? After asking this question, I stunned the audience with the answer: KISS!  As you know, it’s an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid!   So, when in doubt, always choose simple over complex. The problems we face are surely complex, but it is a well accepted principle  that you can’t fight complexity with complexity. Simplicity is the right weapon.

“Perfecting oneself is as much unlearning as it is learning”

My programming mother tongue was FORTRAN.  Later,the teacher who taught us Pascal warned us that unless we unlearn our FORTRAN ways, we won’t be able to exploit Pascal fully. Otherwise, he said, we would join the tribe of programmers who code in FORTRAN in any language!  With so many new languages and programming techniques coming our way, it is absolutely critical that we develop the ability of unlearning old ways to meaningfully embrace the new new things.

As promised, let me quote three of the more famous, and entertaining, utterances of Dijkstra that amuse me no end.

“It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration.”

“The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offense.”

“The use of anthropomorphic terminology when dealing with computing systems is a symptom of professional immaturity”

Hmm. Think hard about the last one.

Postscript: I found another gem, that generated a great dialog when I posted it on Facebook.

“Besides a mathematical inclination, an exceptionally good mastery of one’s native tongue is the most vital asset of a competent programmer.”

Read this paper if you want to know how do we tell truths that might hurt.

– Abhay

Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

February 15, 2014 at 6:32 am

Turning Around Universities

with 7 comments


Prof Deepak B Phatak

 I recently heard Prof. Deepak Phatak (IIT Mumbai).   He envisages a scenario where MOOC becomes the backbone, dramatically changing the role of a traditional University. Here are my notes from the talk he gave at the recently concluded TechForSeva conference held in Pune in September 2013.

A lot is talked about the access to knowledge.  Prof. Phatak emphasized that access is not the problem.  It’s about assimilation.

In this new world, role of the teacher is set to change – or has already changed – dramatically.  The teacher’s job is not about teaching anymore.  They have to be the facilitators.  They need to help students apply the knowledge, explore the knowledge and use the knowledge.

No matter how advanced the technology or how easy the access – the human intervention is still critical.

Integration of MOOC (Massively Online Open Courses) and teacher interaction is the key.  At IIT, they now use the “Flip Classroom” model.  In olden days one attended the lectures in the college and did homework at the hostel or at home.  Now, with MOOC, you listen to the lectures at home, hostel or anywhere you choose and solve problems in the class.  The class is where you would have the facilitator teacher in person to work with.

Today teachers spend up to 90% of their time in preparation, delivery, setting question papers and evaluation.  In the new model, all that time could be saved!  With MOOC, the best of the best lectures would be available instantly and the teacher will no more be required to prepare and deliver in the first place.  Even the setting of question papers and evaluation is part of MOOC.  All the teacher’s energy can now be spent on solving the problems and applying the knowledge in the real world. 

With this model, some questions that are worrying teachers can be answered easily.  Will MOOC make the professors redundant?  No. Will that lead to the loss of self-esteem of regular University professors?  No.   Earlier, the good teacher was supposed to prepare and deliver.  Now they will need to mentor, guide and discuss.  Note that the new responsibilities will have a far more impact.   The new role is far more challenging too.

Our Universities will have to adapt to this new model.  In fact Prof. Phatak envisages a scenario where a typical University STOPS creating curriculum and even conducting examinations.  They can use the MOOC of world’s leading colleges – and use the physical space of the local University to collaborate, discuss and solve problems.

In the course of his address, Prof. Phatak quoted Sougat Mitra.  When asked if the current education system is broke, Sougat Mitra replied, “no it’s solid.  Actually it’s so solid and unyielding that we can’t even break it. So – it is better to bypass it”.

More about Prof. Deepak Phatak

Prof. Phatak narrated an encounter as he opened his talk.

He was once invited to a tribal area near Thane to deliver a talk to the school students in that area.  When he landed there, he was told to talk on “Information Technology” – in Marathi! “माहिती तंत्रज्ञान”.  That was the first time he spoke in Marathi on that topic.  He was pleasantly surprised by the intelligent questions asked by the young students.

After the talk he was surrounded by children – jostling for his autograph!  That was a first again.  He saw a boy standing a little away.

Do you want my autograph?
No sir, I want to talk to you.
OK, I will be with you in a few minutes.

And then a few volunteers came to Professor and told him that the local politician (MLA) was waiting for him at the snacks table.  As Prof. Phatak was about to leave with them, the boy grabbed him by his sleeves.

Sir, you promised to talk to me.
Yes – but the MLA saheb is waiting for me.
Sir, I have walked 10 kilometers to listen to you.
What? Don’t you have any public transport – bus or tempo here?
We do have.  Not affordable though. I walk 6 Km everyday to my school.

By this time Professor had lost his interest in the politician.

Sir, I am in 8th grade. I always stand first in my class. What would it take for me to become an expert in IT?

Professor gave him the usual spiel on the entrance exams, engineering colleges and all that. And then asked.

Why do you want to become an IT expert?
Your Nandan Nilekani founded Infosys, right? I want to found a company like that.

Here Professor Phatak shared that it was such incidents that made him make “access to education” his life mission.

Written by Abhay Shivgounda Patil

October 2, 2013 at 10:07 am

Posted in Education, IIT